Mahon, James Patrick, 1800-1891Alternative names
James Patrick Mahon, also known as "The O'Gorman Mahon," entered Irish politics in 1821, while still a student at Trinity College, Dublin. becoming (upon the death of his father) a J.P. for his native county, Clare. Around the time of his graduation from Trinity in 1826, he joined then newly-formed Catholic Association, headed by Daniel O'Connell. Mahon was one of the first to urge O'Connell to stand for Parliament from County Clare in the election of 1828. O'Connell's election marked the first time since the Glorious Revolution that a Catholic was elected to Parliament and ultimately seated.
The success of this undertaking inspired Mahon to try his luck as a candidate. He was elected in 1830, along with Major W. N. MacNamara, but was charged with bribery and unseated. (He was subsequently cleared of the charge.) When he again became a candidate in 1831, it was without the important support of O'Connell. O'Connell backed MacNamara; a rift between Mahon and O'Connell resulted, which was never to be mended. Mahon did, however, win the seat.
In 1835, Mahon began an extensive sojourn abroad. He traveled in a number of European countries, Africa, the East, and South America, before returning to Ireland in 1846. From 1847 to 1852, he again represented Clare. When he stood for re-election in 1852, Lord Fitzgerald defeated him. He thereupon resumed his foreign travels, becoming for a time a lieutenant in the Czar's army. From Russia, he wandered across China, India, Arabia, Turkey, and Austria; in the latter two countries, he served in military capacities. He returned to England in 1858, but soon left for South America, where he became involved in one of the many plans to construct a canal across Central America.
Mahon also spent several months in Peru. During his time there, he took an active interest in investigating the mysterious disappearance of Captain Lionel Lambert, commander of the British ship Vixen, on which Mahon had traveled. Mahon compelled the Peruvian government to investigate, and it was found that Lambert had been murdered. Mahon reported the findings to Lord Palmerston, whose acquaintance Mahon had cultivated during his second term in Parliament.
Mahon served in a number of military capacities while in South America, most of them honorary appointments. Legend has it that he was even made an archbishop in Brazil. Upon learning of the outbreak of civil war in the United States, Mahon went to fight on the side of the North. In 1866, he returned to Europe and was granted a colonelcy in a regiment of chasseurs by Louis Napoleon. Although Mahon's escapades have taken on a legendary quality, it is nonetheless clear that his foreign travels constitute one of the most interesting--if, unfortunately, not always well documented periods of his life.
In 1867, he proceeded to Berlin, where he became acquainted with Bismarck and the crown prince. He petitioned Bismarck for a concession to establish a joint-stock bank in Berlin, to be called the Anglo-Prussian Bank. Negotiations had begun in the autumn of 1863, while Mahon was still in South America.
Mahon returned to Ireland in 1871, and two years later took part in the Home Rule Conference founded by Isaac Butt. Through his association with the Home Rule Party during this period, Mahon became friends with Mitchell Henry and his family. Henry was a wealthy manufacturer from Manchester, who settled in County Galway and represented this county in Parliament as an advocate of Home Rule.
During this same period Mahon formed a friendship with Arthur Richard Wellesley, the second Duke of Wellington. Wellington's father, ironically, had strongly disapproved of the young O'Gorman Mahon's actions fifty years earlier during the campaign for O'Connell's election. Both Wellington and Mahon were in their seventies by the time they became friends. Wellington, in the spirit of his father, strongly disapproved of Mahon's Home Rule stand. Despite this difference, their friendship grew.
In 1879, Mahon was elected to Parliament from Clare as a Home Ruler. By this time, Isaac Butt's leadership of the Home Rule Party had become ineffective. As a result, Charles Stewart Parnell superceded Butt in the leadership of the party, though Butt remained nominal head. Butt died in the autumn of 1879, and was temporarily succeeded by William Shaw. The following year, when Disraeli dissolved Parliament and called for new elections, Mahon was returned. At a party meeting before Parliament met, Mahon proposed the election of Parnell as head of the party. Parnell defeated Shaw.
After Parliament was dissolved, Mahon had proposed to Shaw that Captain William O'Shea succeed Lord Francis Conyngham as the other representative from Clare. O'Shea was elected along with Mahon and a deep friendship developed between the two men.
In 1885, Mahon failed to obtain renomination in Clare. Many in his constituency felt the need for a younger representative in Parliament. Mahon succeeded, however, in a bid for office in 1887 as representative of Carlow. During this time also Mahon found himself distracted by a personal matter-a lengthy and unpleasant court case contesting the will of his son, St. John, who had died in 1884.
Mahon's health began to fail as he approached his ninetieth year. When his attendance in Parliament became irregular, Parnell and Justin McCarthy (leader of the party in Parnell's absence) requested that Mahon try to attend more frequently, especially when the party was to vote on an important issue. Mahon died in London on June 15, 1891. Shortly before his death, he publicly repudiated Parnell, with whom he had broken over the issue of the O'Shea divorce. Mahon was buried in the O'Connell circle in Glasnevin Cemetery on June 21, 1891.
From the guide to the O'Gorman Mahon. Papers, 1824-1892, (Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)
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